quiet christmas, red-ringed edition
more than anything, i yearn for the quiet of christmas, the early morning silence when it’s just me puttering about the kitchen, cranking the oven, simmering spices on the stove. i take my morning prayer by flickering candle flame. or beneath the morning stars. or beside the woodsy fir, now strung with lights and berries, standing proud beside the ticking clock that chimes the hours.
i love listening for the first of the footsteps thumping onto the floorboards overhead, and the creaking of the old oak that follows. but long before that longed-for stirring breaks the silence, it’s into the depths of quiet that i surrender, that i’ve been waiting for all these weeks. the old house before its stirring. when it’s just barely breathing. and christmas is finally at the door.
it’s in that silence that i most absorbingly slip into the dusky hours of that ancient, ancient night, when amid the vastly-vaulted holy land, beneath the rough-hewn rafters of a barn, down low where the straw was matted, where the creatures intoned their moans and mews and cooing, a newborn babe let out a human cry. i like to imagine i’m peeking out from behind a post. i sometimes imagine the laboring mother reaching out her hand, reaching out for strength in the form of someone else’s flesh and delicate bone, reaching for another hand—my hand—to hold onto hers, to wipe her brow, her tears, to kneel down beside her and whisper certainties. “you got this,” i imagine saying, as these three words have so often scaffolded me in my own hours of trembling fears.
but this christmas is not going to be like any other christmas. it’s not even like last year’s most unfamiliar christmas, when we all but hunkered down, when we awaited the vaccine just peeking over the horizon, when hope felt not too far off.
no, this christmas, we’re all upside down again. it’s all changed and changing fast. as fast as that red-ringed variant omicron is mutating, is doubling in numbers inside some of us, our hopes and plans for christmas are changing too.
there is abundant heartbreak this christmas. and here, on the very eve of christmas day, i don’t yet know what tomorrow will bring. but i’m willing to bed i won’t be leaving my bed.
given the headlines––the wildfire that is omicron––there’s a mighty fair chance your christmas is as tumbled up as ours.
we’ve an uninvited visitor here, one who snuck in through the back door and turned everything inside out and slanted. yes, covid came, and in very short order canceled someone’s surgery, and canceled someone else’s flight from california. covid came and sent one of us all but seeing stars, she was so gulpingly alarmed. after all, i’ve lived the last nearly two years doing everything i could to lope at least two steps ahead: for months i was among the ones who washed every single grocery bag or box or pint hauled into this old house; i steered clear of crowds, wore not one but two masks unless alone in the woods, or tracing the lakeshore’s edge. met ones i love harbored on the front stoop a good twelve feet away. washed my hands to happy birthday thrice. (if twice was recommended, i opted always for the extra round of public health insurance.)
but covid caught up to us. my firstborn—home for the first christmas in two years—is quarantined in the room at the top of the stairs. i was quarantined in my little writing room until my PCR came back negative early yesterday morn. for two long days, i was calling the book-stacked chamber my covid cottage, my covid christmas cottage.
and now, after a long night with thermometer under tongue, i’m all but sure the red-ringed virus dodged the swab but has me in its clutches, since i feel more awful by the hour. i’m thinking omicron is wily, and mighty good at playing hide-and-seek. i’ll test again this morning. (bless the neighbors who drove home from ohio, where supply is far more abundant, with a wee stash of impossible-to-find DIY covid tests.)
most of all, i’ve worried about my mama, who does not want to be alone on christmas day, but whom we don’t want felled by this nasty, nasty scourge. dear God, don’t let her get it.
all the last minute upside-down-ness has clearly pointed to one simple single certain truth: if we can be gathered with the ones we love, under the same roof, by zoom or phone or mental telepathy, well then we’re blessed as blessed could be.
this is not the way i imagined it, whispering christmas wishes through a crack beneath the door, leaving packages on the tray that ferries food and dishes in and out of the sickroom. too contagious to wander down the stairs and daydream by the light-strung tree. but here’s what matters: we are emphatically and undeniably all under one single roof.
which, after all, is the answer to a hundred prayers. it’s what we lacked last year. and some iteration of what i wished for this year.
while we untangle uncertainties here on the homefront, i still stand ready to unfurl a christmas morning’s benediction.
a prayer for quiet christmas
dear God of starlit dawn, dear God of Light now coming, as we gather up this year, gather up the sorrows and the sweetness, hear our deepest cries. let us love even when our hearts get bumped and bruised. let us be gentle in the harshest hours. let us keep upright even when we’re wobbling. let us hold onto hope. let us seize the blessings as they unfold within our reach. lift up our tender memories, the ones we’ve loved and lost this year. let us carry forward their inextinguishable flame, and keep their incandescence blazing. dear God, as we bow down and bend our knees, let us behold the newborn wonder, and do all we can to absorb the holy light of this most silent silent night.
merry blessed christmas to each and every someone who wanders by the chair. may you be well, and hold tight to all your blessings.
Oh, bam! 😳 🥲 🙏🏻
I’m so sorry you and your first born are now added to the long list of folks I know who have the red-ringed thing. Hoping you both have very mild bouts. Our holiday plans took a beating too. Our family of six will be all under one roof tonight. We were to be a party of 11 tonight and a party of 15 on Christmas Day but Covid concerns nixed that. Sarah just shared a photo she took last night while she was wrapping gifts – Christmas tree in the background and Covid test box on the ottoman.
sounds like this Christmas moment was captured squarely in her camera. my at-home test just now is negative so i am betwixt and befuddled. whatever it is, it’s nasty, and i wish i knew its name. but if it’s not contagious COVID maybe i can sit under the tree and stare heavenward. maybe all the other viruses decided to gang up and go for it, as long as the red-ringed thing was getting all the attention.
merry blessed day, the six of you. xoxo
Oh, so very sorry you have joined the plethora of incomplete families this Christmas and those with covid. May it be a quick and easy bout, thanks to our scientists. Our family of 5 are just 3 this year. Evan is alone in Boston with omnicron. First born is home but grandma may not join us for fear of catching it. It is rampant in MD and DC. We just bought a little half-price Charlie Brown tree today and the dinner for 25 will instead, be for 3. The next door family of 3 kids is also down to 1 due to omnicron. This variant is like Velcro! Get well, darling and may the new year bring good health and continued blessings on all of you! Our greetings to everyone:)
“Velcro” is perfect descriptor!! And I think tests are missing it till it’s too late, adding to the Velcro-ness.
the arithmetic of this Christmas is really something: 25–>3!!!!!!!
And why is the poopy emoji smiling, anyway?
I am sooooo sorry to hear this. Maybe you should flu test? I saw somewhere that Quest Diagnostics (do you have one nearby?) has a combo that with one swab they test for Covid AND flu.
Oh, dear, dear bammy… 💔
Prayers, for all of you. Sending all the love and healing juju.
your poop emoji is cracking me up!!!! good tip on Quest, though i don’t know where one is……doctor in california told me a little while ago to assume it’s covid till proven otherwise. i think there are as many theories on this as variants…..
Bah. So sorry, Sweet.
in the spirit of full disclosure and for the record, i had to repeat the PCR on Christmas morning (the gift — or the miracle — was no cars in front of me at the northwestern hospital drive-thru when i got thee at 9 a.m.) and the red alert arrived last night (positive results come in RED with exclamations so as not to miss), just in time to have me dashing up the stairs and flinging myself back into strict isolation. (i’d come out of hiding to peek at the tree.) so the lesson here is that the current tests — even PCRs — might take a few days to pick up the positivity, so assume until proven otherwise that you’ve got it — especially if you happen to have symptoms. i have not had the “mild headcold” version. but my firstborn has had pretty much that gentler rendition of this nasty thing, praise the lord…..
and as julian of norwich, the mystic who lived in isolation during an earlier pandemic, once assured: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Barbie, your touching story is a well-needed reminder for me to be grateful for the many Christmas blessings that I have! My heart aches for you, Will and your mama. I hope that you’ll be feeling better soon. Much love to you all!
thanks, my beautiful friend. are you out my southern window and a few miles away, aka in chicago?!?!?! that makes me feel better already. xoxox
Yes, I’m so close that I feel like I can reach out and give you a big hug! Please take care of yourself. Hey, I hear that it’s supposed to snow tomorrow! I can’t wait to see it and I know that it will cheer you up as well! I’ll be thinking of you in the stillness of it❤️.
I’m sitting here in the quiet by light of my Christmas tree and reading your words in disbelief. This red monster that creeps in without warning is now in your house. I pray it continues to be mild and moves out swiftly. Like you I wonder when will this end…two years of our world up ended with no play book to guide us. But we are all walking each other home through this and that..for now..is Enough!
Take care my sweet friend.
Ohhhh Marsha, bless you. I just felt my whole heart rise up when I read your beautiful words: “we are all walking each other home….” Sooo beautiful ….
From here in my bed, against my stack of pillows, on a grey grey morning, you just once again proved the power of words to shrink miles and work wonders. I literally felt as if you were standing beside me, squeezing me by the hand. Bless you and thank you ❤️
Hope everyone is better soon. I got the killer cold at Thanksgiving and the cough lingers but at least it is not COVID. Get as much rest as you can – I can’t believe I am giving a nurse medical advice – at least my first two initials are MD – and I love “We are all walking each other home.”
trust me, darlin, the only activity of the day is a.) fluffing the pillow, and b.) pulling up the covers. i decidedly did not get the millennial version of this, which i’ve heard as described as pretty much nothing more than a sneeze in the park.
and, yes, i take advice from anyone with MD in name.
and, yes, most: we are all walking each other home is just a gorgeous gorgeous line and an even finer code to live by.
amen to that.
and merry new year.
Oh, bam, by now I hope you are recovering and no longer contagious. (My earlier condolences went poof before I could send.) Contracting this new, fast-moving version of the plague seems inevitable, even with an N95 plus outer cloth mask and all the proactive behaviors. A tiny sniffle, a little cough… is it or isn’t it?
Here’s a teeny, tiny miracle that just made me catch my breath: One of my dad’s prized Christmas cactuses has a nearly 2-inch bloom–tumbling over the edge of the wicker plant stand, where I couldn’t see it before. Until this summer, neither of the two old plants had bloomed since his last Christmas in 2014. The off-season flower that appeared on one puzzled but delighted me. This reblooming has made my day, perhaps my whole Christmas season. I hope sharing this will brighten your day a little. Take care, and maybe you’ve at least bolstered your immune system with this ill-timed infection. Hope Will is okay now and fervently hope your mom stays well and safe. Maybe “next year all our troubles will be far away.”
OH dear gracious!!! that is AMAAAAAAZING! so it’s blooming for the very first time since he died. wow. that’s like the mystery double crocus that arises in my garden every year, and the only place we’d ever seen it was my grandma’s. it blooms at my mom’s and then magically leapt over to my house. who says blooms aren’t tied to netherworlds…..?
picturing your bloom is indeed a happy thought. two more days of isolation for me. then i am sprung in time for the new year…..
happy blessed sweet heart.